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Should Retail Stores Be Required to Have Defibrillators? State High Court Says No

A family of a woman who died of a heart attack inside a Target, sued, claiming the chain should have had a defibrillator available in its store in case of medical emergency.

A defibrillator. Patch file photo.
A defibrillator. Patch file photo.

Target is not required under state law to have defibrillators in its stores for use in emergencies, the state Supreme Court ruled today, rejecting claims by relatives of a woman who died of cardiac arrest while shopping at a Target in Pico Rivera.

The state's high court ruled that "under California law, Target's common law duty of care to its customers does not include a duty to acquire and make available an AED (automated external defibrillator) for use in a medical emergency."

Mary Ann Verdugo, 49, suffered sudden cardiac arrest and collapsed while shopping at a Pico Rivera Target store on Aug. 31, 2008. Paramedics were called, but were unable to revive her. The Verdugo family sued, claiming Target should have had a defibrillator available in its store in case of medical emergency.

The family contended that the "inexpensive availability of AEDs and their ease of use with even minimal or no advance training have led to on-site CPR and AED assistance to now be an expected part of first aid response."

The case was originally dismissed by a federal court. The family appealed, eventually asking the state's highest court to determine if a duty to provide defibrillators exists under California law.

The state Supreme Court noted that defibrillators have been installed in many state-owned and leased buildings throughout California.

But the court found that the lawsuit fails to prove that Target's operations or the activities inside Target stores "indicate a high degree or heightened foreseeability that its patrons will suffer sudden cardiac arrest on its premises."

"Instead, it appears that the risk of such an occurrence is no greater at Target than at any other location open to the public," according to the ruling. "Furthermore, plaintiff argues in its brief that death is especially likely to result from sudden cardiac arrest that occurs in a big-box store 'because it is impossible for emergency crews to reach a stricken invitee in time' in a large, heavily trafficked building.

"There is nothing, however, to suggest that the risk of death from sudden cardiac arrest in a big-box store is any greater than the risk of death from sudden cardiac arrest that occurs at any other location that is equally or more distant from existing emergency medical services."

The court concluded there is nothing in California law requiring Target or other retailers to provide a defibrillator. It noted that the only state to have such a requirement on the books is Oregon, which has a statute requiring the owner of a "place of public assembly" to have at least one defibrillator in place.

Eileen G. June 25, 2014 at 12:36 PM
What happens if it's not something you need and it kills you? Because the person thought you were in cardiac arrest? Should stores be obligated to carry insulin in case a diabetic goes into shock?
Jennifer June 25, 2014 at 02:25 PM
@ Eileen - the AED's provide an audible, step-by-step, set of instructions (algorithim) for the rescuer to follow. That's the beauty of these devices. The device analyzes the patients' rhythm to determine if a shock is advised. If it is, it tells you exactly what to do. The AED provides the appropriate intervention until Paramedics and EMT's can arrive and proceed with Advanced Life Support (ACLS) interventions. The AED increases the patients chance of surviving a cardiac event.
Mary June 25, 2014 at 04:31 PM
A retail store should not have to be an emergency room, and you can't really expect clerks who are paid the minimum wage to be CPR experts.
Ken Briggs June 25, 2014 at 07:28 PM
Mary you are right, after all a lot of ifs in this , and what if something went wrong ? you came to store to shop not to do what ? sorry but you can not sue for being ill at the store .
Eileen G. June 26, 2014 at 11:33 AM
@Jennifer - I understand exactly what they do. My husband has one implanted in his chest. IF for some reason lets say it was to go off in a store, someone thought he was having a heart attack used one of the store provided AED's and killed him because the one implanted in his chest already did that and knocked him on his ass. That person using and following instructions on how to use the device does not know he already has something. I'd be suing... they should have just called 911. Because a Paramedic would know what an implanted defibrillator/pacemaker looks like.

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